Thien-An Nguyen, Youth Speak News

Finding meaning behind the idea of covenants

By  Thien-An Nguyen, Youth Speak News
  • February 8, 2012

A few weeks ago, I was shanghaied by one of my friends into attending a Bible study with Ottawa Christian Fellowship.

I must admit I was not particularly optimistic about this venture, given the brutal Ottawa winter in full swing at the time. Also, as a product of numerous retreats and Catholic conferences during high school, I was equally doubtful that I would learn anything new. So with a degree of scepticism, I followed my friend and her Bible study group into one of the major residences on the University of Ottawa campus.

I’ve been an avid reader of the Bible since I was a child. In fact, it was the first book I ever read (maybe it was a children’s Bible, but that still counts). I was fascinated with the stories of Abraham and Jacob, with Moses and Joshua, Samuel and David. On the other hand, though, I was far less familiar with the long monologues of the Psalms, the Songs and a few of the prophets like Sirach and Jeremiah, since such poetry is not exactly my cup of tea.

Lo and behold, the passage under scrutiny that evening was from the latter category of the Bible, a passage from the prophet Isaiah 61:1-9.

At first I felt like I was hearing words I’ve often heard at Mass, of proclaiming liberty to the captives and bringing good news to the oppressed. However, when the group discussed the line “I will make an everlasting covenant with them” (Isaiah 61:8), something stuck. On other days that line would be nothing special, especially since the study of covenants make up 50 per cent of the Catholic secondary school religion curriculum. It was what the Bible study leader said afterwards that blew my mind: “A covenant is a sacred agreement where even if one side is unable to fulfill it, the other side will continue to uphold his or her end regardless.”

Now, for someone who has spent the last couple of weeks immersed in Machiavellian political thought, where powerful rulers essentially rule in their self-interest, this self-sacrificing character of God was absolutely shocking. Seriously, promising to keep His end of the bargain while I and other human beings continually break it? That’s insane.

But notably, one mustn’t forget that Christ also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14: 15), and so we can’t expect to enjoy the promises of the covenant without a willingness to try. On the other hand, failure to keep the covenant is very likely to happen, especially for a sinner like me.

But a motivating factor is knowing that God is always there in His mercy to accept my attempts.

So maybe I didn’t learn anything new per se. But I did understand something: God is beyond human intellect but more importantly, God is love.

(Thien-An Nguyen, 19, is a history and political science student at the University of Ottawa. Read her full Q&A at youthspeaknews.org)

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